Draft Local Plan October 2012

A Sustainable Tourism Economy

6.29 Tourism is an important and growing economic sector in West Oxfordshire estimated to be worth over £250 million to the local economy each year. This reflects the area's attractive countryside, including the Cotswolds AONB, historic Cotswold market towns and villages and a range of visitor attractions, including the Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site. The District also has considerable water assets including the River Thames and its tributaries and the Oxford Canal on the District's eastern boundary. Most of these attractions have a cultural or historic affinity with the area and its rural character.

6.30 Through the Oxfordshire Cotswolds brand, the local tourism strategy seeks to capitalise on West Oxfordshire's inherent assets and promotes tourism development which complements and enhances them. The Council will continue the long held approach of seeking the optimum use of existing tourist facilities and encouraging small scale new tourist facilities and attractions which can be more easily assimilated into the landscape and local communities.

6.31 Larger new attractions, which generate significant visitor numbers, are more appropriate in or adjacent to the main towns, where there are public transport opportunities and traffic impact on rural roads can be minimised. For some facilities, such as hotels and restaurants, a town centre location will be most appropriate although other locations may be acceptable taking into account both the town centre first approach and specific locational and functional requirements.

6.32 Tourism investment and visitor spending can support the management and conservation of historic and natural sites, local traditions, events and the distinctive features of the Cotswolds AONB and other designated areas. Tourism enterprises and visitors are encouraged to support practical conservation initiatives, some of which are highlighted in Section 7 - Environmental and Heritage Assets.

6.33 Visitor-related facilities may offer benefits to existing local communities, such as supporting local food producers, shops and pubs or new recreational opportunities. Locating new visitor related development within or close to existing settlements will enable the potential wider community benefits to be realised whilst minimising the spread of development into the open countryside. In some cases tourism development in the open countryside may be justified if associated with a particular countryside attraction or a farm diversification scheme. Existing buildings should be utilised wherever possible although replacement buildings should be considered where this would result in a more sustainable development.

6.34 Camping and touring caravan sites are scattered throughout the District and many are small in size and of limited visual or environmental impact. The siting and screening of new sites will need careful consideration, particularly in the Cotswolds AONB, and appropriate existing buildings should be used for associated facilities where possible. Additional sites for static holiday caravans are not generally considered appropriate in West Oxfordshire because of the landscape quality and special character of the built environment. Well designed (non-caravan) holiday units are more appropriate. The intensification or extension of existing sites camping or caravan sites should achieve positive environmental improvements.

6.35 The location, scale and design of any new visitor related development must be appropriate to the area and its environmental impact will be carefully assessed and weighed against any economic and community benefits. Where tourist accommodation is proposed in locations where new dwellings would not normally be permitted the Council will impose planning conditions or require legal agreements restricting buildings to holiday accommodation use.

6.36 The after-use of former mineral workings in the Lower Windrush Valley may offer particular opportunities for leisure and tourism development. Existing recreational uses include walking, fishing, horse riding, windsurfing, sailing, banger racing, power boating and water skiing. The after-use strategy established in the County Minerals and Waste Local Plan has been for the more intensive water based recreation to be focussed in the Standlake area with lower key recreation uses such as angling, walking and non-intrusive leisure uses and provision for nature conservation elsewhere in the valley. This strategy continues to be appropriate, notably as the more intensive leisure uses are likely to be incompatible with nature conservation if in close proximity.

6.37 The Lower Windrush Valley Project was set up to co-ordinate habitat creation and conservation alongside achieving leisure opportunities - such as the Windrush Path. The work of the project has also identified opportunities to improve recreational access in the area by creating connections between existing rights of way. The Council will continue to work with the Project and County Minerals Authority to determine suitable after-uses. After-use proposals which offer a positive and comprehensive legacy for local communities and nature conservation interests will be supported.

6.38 The River Thames on the District's southern boundary is a significant asset in terms of its environmental quality and as a recreational resource. The Thames in West Oxfordshire flows through remote and tranquil open countryside. The Council will support low key tourism and leisure proposals along the Thames which are sensitive to and enhance where appropriate it's ecological, landscape and heritage value.

6.39 In accordance with this approach and The Thames Waterway Plan, the further provision or extension of permanent base moorings and associated facilities will only be allowed in suitable locations off the main river channel. There is a suggested need for further overnight public visitor mooring facilities. Such moorings will be best located where there is access to facilities and services such as nearby local shops or pubs. Given the rural nature of the Thames in West Oxfordshire appropriate locations will be limited but the potential for further visitor moorings and associated facilities will be investigated.

CORE POLICY 14 - Sustainable Tourism

Tourism and leisure development which utilises and enriches the natural and built environment and existing attractions of West Oxfordshire to the benefit of visitors and local communities will be supported.

New tourist and visitor facilities will be located within or close to existing settlements and reuse of appropriate existing buildings wherever possible. In the open countryside new tourism and visitor facilities may be justified where there is a functional linkage with a particular countryside attraction or to secure the diversification of a farm enterprise or Country Estate.

Subject to specific locational or functional requirements, the town centre first approach will be applied to tourism and leisure development including hotels and conference facilities, theatres, museums, galleries, cinemas, restaurants, bars, pubs, nightclubs and more intensive sport and recreational uses.

Proposals in the Cotswolds AONB should maintain and enhance the landscape quality and biodiversity of the area and where possible support the objectives of the Cotswolds AONB Management Plan and Sustainable Tourism Strategy.

In the Lower Windrush Valley the Council will continue to work with the Lower Windrush Valley Project and County Minerals Authority to identify appropriate opportunities for tourism and leisure development. Proposals which complement the rural character of the area and deliver comprehensive long term recreational access, community or nature conservation benefits will be supported.

The Council, working with the River Thames Alliance, will support tourism and leisure proposals which are sensitive to and where appropriate enhance the ecological, landscape and heritage value of the River Thames. The further provision or extension of permanent base moorings and associated facilities will only be allowed in suitable locations off the main river channel.